Recycling and Composting are Progressing in Europe

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According to the European statistics agency, Eurostat, in the 27 members of the European Union, 40% of treated municipal waste was recycled or composted in 2011, up from 27% in 2001. While these are good news, let’s have a look at the official statistics.

Still to the data presented by Eurostat, a quarter of all European waste is recycled and 15 percent is composted. In comparison, the proportion of recycled and incinerated waste in the United States is of 34 percent (source: EPA). Back to the European Union, incineration accounts for 23 percent. The remaining 37 percent is sent to landfills.

The first thing that one can notice is that there are many disparities between countries.

If Austria is champion of composting with 34 percent (while recycling 28 percent of the total), some others are much less virtuous.

Some countries such as Germany, Ireland and Belgium favor recycling (with 45 percent, 37 percent and 35 percent of the total, respectively) while other countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Luxembourg incinerate their waste (with 54 percent, 51 percent and 38 percent respectively).

Amongst more recent country members, Sending waste to landfills is all too common. Indeed, Romania, Bulgaria, Malta, Latvia and Lithuania landfill the quasi totality of their waste. On the other side of the spectrum, Germany only sends one percent of its total waste to landfills.

My home country, France, is in the European average, with 28 percent of trash going to the landfills, 35 percent of it being incinerated, 19 percent being recycled and the remaining 18 percent being composted.

Having a look at the data presented in the chart what strikes the most is just the amount of trash Europeans are producing.

On average, each EU member produces no less than 503 kilograms of municipal waste per year. Then again, amounts vary importantly as an Estonian citizen will produce “only” 298 kilograms per year while his / her Danish counterpart will produce a staggering 718 kilograms.

To conclude, it is more than high time for the European Union to become serious on decreasing the amount of trash it is producing. It’s time to follow these very simple pieces of advice.

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About Author

Fascinated by sustainability and cleantech since 2004, Edouard wrote both his Bachelor of Arts' dissertation and Master's thesis on sustainable energy topics. He haven't stopped writing on these subjects ever since. A French Master's graduate in international management, Edouard has had several experiences in Marketing and Communications in Europe. He worked for firms as diverse as a German water treatment company, a leading French business school and lately a Belgian automation specialist. He is currently for hire globally. Since 2007 Edouard has been selecting for his own blog the latest headlines and best researches on sustainable development, climate change, cleantech and the world energy sector. With over 1,600 published articles, he is read all over the world. On Cleantechies, Edouard has been proposing since June 2009 news articles and opinion pieces on on French and European policies. Don't hesitate to contact him as he is always interested in discussing with new people.

2 Comments

  1. Great news for Europeans. Is it really true that Germany only sends one percent of its total waste to landfills? For me, it’s just hard to believe. While I’ve been raised in Asian country and I see huge landfills across my city. I hope our government will also make sincere efforts in bringing down the quantity of landfills.

  2. Hi Rinkesh and thanks for your comment.

    While I have no other data to corroborate (or not), I know that Germans are an example to follow concerning the way they handle their waste. I have seen it years ago when I studied, and worked, there.

    Concerning the situation in your home country, sorting out and recycling waste will become a reality as the prices of commodities soar.

    There is indeed a lot of money to be made from our landfills. This is why some are believe we will mine them.

    Incinerating is not necessarily a bad thing if we only use it for the stuff we can’t do anything about it and if we use the energy to heat buildings and create electricity (thanks to cogeneration)

    Meanwhile, good luck and looking forward to reading from you, here on Cleantechies or on my own website. :)

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